tractor on highway

A farmer drives a tractor down a highway in east central Missouri. Several ag and state groups are working together to promote safety for farmers and motorists on the highway during harvest. 

For Mandy Kliethermes, working on a campaign to keep farmers and motorists safe on the road during harvest time is a natural fit.

Kliethermes and her husband, Mark, live on a farm along a divided highway, and she works for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

“I can look at my husband’s life experiences,” she says. “He is a multi-generational farmer. This hits home.”

MoDOT has a Slow-Moving Farm Vehicle Awareness campaign planned for this fall to remind motorists of ways to stay safe when sharing the road with farm equipment. Kliethermes says it is important for both farmers and those around them to be cautious and patient.

“We want to bring attention to the fact harvest season is getting closer, and we want farmers to be safe,” she says. “We also want the motoring public to take some precautions as well.”

The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety helped put together advertising, and the campaign’s message will be shared on social media and in radio ads. Missouri has a “Show-Me Farm Safety” campaign involving a coalition of state groups, including the Departments of Agriculture and Labor, University of Missouri Extension, Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Highway Patrol, Missouri FFA and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.

Kliethermes says data is still preliminary, but in 2019 there were three people killed and 13 seriously injured in crashes on Missouri roadways involving a farm vehicle. She says any fatality can have a large impact for family farms.

“When you lose a farmer, sometimes you lose a generation on the farm,” she says.

Highway safety in these situations starts with being aware and slowing down.

“We really want to put an emphasis on the motoring public, when you see a farm vehicle, slow down,” Kliethermes says. “Pass on the left and only when you have a clear distance. Watch for hand signals.”

She says farmers should also take the header off combines before moving them on roads.

Jennifer Poindexter, director of promotion and education for Missouri Farm Bureau, says farm safety and highway safety are important for her organization.

Poindexter says rollover protective structures (ROPS) are an important safety feature, and farmers should buckle up if their tractor has seat belts and also buckle up passengers in the “buddy seat.” Farm equipment should also have slow-moving vehicle triangles, and flashers on if possible. She says motorists can help out by being aware.

“We want them to just be aware of their surroundings,” she says. “Look for oncoming vehicles at one-lane bridges, never pass on a hill. Be aware and be courteous, because these farmers are trying to get home at night.”

If possible, Poindexter says farmers can avoid moving equipment during the busier times of day, during the morning commute or around the time workdays end, often from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

She says Farm Bureau is rolling out a farm safety pamphlet to hand out at schools and community events.

Lt. Collin Stosberg, who works in the public information and education division for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, says farmers are an important part of Missouri’s economy and culture. Harvest is a particularly busy time for farmers and farm equipment on rural highways.

“It’s just an important time of year to be vigilant and to be patient,” Stosberg says. “Never pass on a hill or curve. That’s typically when the collisions occur, or when turning left.”

He adds sometimes large farm vehicles move right slightly to make a wide left turn, and motorists should pay close attention and not mistake that for a farm vehicle pulling over to let them pass. Turn signals can be helpful if available. Stosberg says farmers should also be aware of the traffic following them.

“If traffic does accumulate behind you, you should pull off on a level area,” he says.

He says the state is seeing an increase in ATV accidents, and farmers operating them should be cautious as well.

The main issue for farm highway safety is paying attention, Stosberg says.

“Distracted drivers are the most dangerous drivers,” he says.

Kliethermes says the Department of Transportation works to get the message to youth in particular, including through 4-H and FFA events, to help form good habits early and target higher-risk demographics.

“We really emphasize getting it to the kids when we can,” she says.

Stosberg says safety on the roadways during harvest time is possible.

“If everyone exercises patience and common sense, we can have a safe harvest season,” he says.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.